Are you ready to be captivated by the beauty of China once again?
In this second (and last) part I will take you to Chengdu, Chongqing, Guiyang, Guiling and Hong Kong: we’ll talk pandas, amazing waterfalls,giant statues and stunning city views!
Xi’an was the last stop I shared with my awesome travel buddy Rebecca, and when I got to Chengdu all alone…it felt weird. Add to that the fact that my hostel didn’t have a good common room and that the weather was rainy and grey and there you have my mood plunging to new depths. And that’s when I decided that I wanted to spend a day doing absolutely nothing but walking around with no rush, no place to go. I followed the river for quite a while, since water makes me happy and calm, then I stopped to watch a group of old men trying to fish – they were a bit confused by me at first, but we silently rejoiced together with smiles when there was some sort of catch and, when I got back to my hostel after some sort of socialisation, I was in a much better mood. I didn’t go sightseeing much around Chengdu, I spent one day at Chengdu’s Panda Base and another around Leshan, where I saw the amazing Giant Buddha.
But let’s talk Pandas! Chengdu Panda Base can be reached both via expensive tours available at any hostel/hotel or by taking a couple of buses: you’ll see where you have to stop because there’s a huge panda statue in the middle of a roundabout right in front of the entrance to the Base. I had never seen a panda before, they are the laziest and cutest animals out there! I’ve seen so many eat laying on their backs and using their tummies as little tables…and yes! If you go early enough you’ll see them all active and moving around – so an early morning is definitely recommended. Otherwise you might end up only seeing sleeping pandas, which are surely cute but, trust me, looking at them wobbling around is quite a lot better.
Lastly, Leshan. Now, can you see the row of people up there, close to the Buddha’s head? No? It’s THAT big. More precisely, it’s a statue of a seated Buddha 71 metres tall carved in the side of a mountain overlooking two rivers. It’s not only the biggest stone Buddha in the world, but it’s also (by far) the tallest pre-modern statue in the world. It’s overwhelming, it literally takes your breath away (or maybe it was the terrible humidity of early July?). It was just beautiful. Leshan is also a beautiful city, and quite modern, and if you stop there you really can’t miss a hike of Mt. Emei. I was only in Leshan there for a quick bite before going back to Chengdu – I hadn’t eaten all day! If you visit the Giant Buddha, make sure you bring food with you unless you want to buy some overpriced, and probably expired, packaged food from some of the stalls inside the park.
✮ I stayed at: Chengdu Traffic Inn – it’s basically a hostel using the back rooms of a hotel, so the rooms are quite good. Bathrooms are ok, but there’s not really a good common room so I found it difficult to meet people. Probably more suited to couples or groups. It’s extremely close to the long distance bus station.
Chongqing is not a city that attracts too many backpackers, although it’s a booming city with a lot to offer (I mean, their metro is in the sky!). Only a few hours’ train from Chengdu, Chongqing is special in many ways: it’s its own municipality, it’s one of five National Core Cities (with the likes of Beijing and Shanghai) and, as shown above, it’s where the Jialing River (left) merges into the Yangtze River (right) creating this beautiful contrast of colours.
While there I was also able to have a look at the Three Gorges Museum, a part of which is dedicated exclusively to the construction of the controversial Three Gorges Dam. Although I do love a good museum, by the time I got out I was famished. But luckily Chongqing has a whole street dedicated to food, full of restaurants, dessert shops, fast food…anything you could imagine. And it’s only a short walk to the city centre, where all the classiest shops and best brands are located. I had lunch with a nice hot pot, with the hot side being particularly superspicy. Not a surprise, considering that Chongqing is only a short stroll from Sichuan, the region known for its mind-numbingly spicy dishes!
If you have the time and money, consider going on a cruise on the Yangtze river from Chongqing to Yichang: the Three Gorges are apparently some of the most beautiful sights in the area! You will also get a chance to see the Stone Sculptures of Dazu (in case the Giant Buddha wasn’t quite enough!) and, if you wanted to go further, you could cruise from Chongqing to Shanghai in only 7 days! It’s definitely on my to-do list when I go back!
✮ I stayed at: Yangtze River International Youth Hostel – right on the Yangtze River, this hostel was nice. Bathrooms are good, although they can get quite busy, and the dorms are tiny but good enough for a short stay. The staff was incredibly helpful, and there are free activities in the common room such as making dumplings. It’s also relatively close to the railway station, which is great if, like me, you need to catch a midnight train!
Guiyang is an AMAZING city. I don’t know why I fell head over heels in love with it, but maybe that has to do with it being the most challenging city I visited. How challenging, you ask? Well, the only hostel in the whole city is so hidden it took me a good two hours to find it (and two hours in the morning heat, after a 17-hour train ride and with a huge backpack…not recommended) and they don’t really have a 24/7 reception, so you really need to wait until everyone’s awake to get settled. It’s no-English challenging, with the receptionists being the only people that could sort of understand me. It’s the city where I got the most stares, where it was the most difficult to understand how the transport worked and where I really got to use my pocket dictionary. But it was so beautiful, so charming. It just breaks my heart to be here telling you to go visit because I know that when it will become the touristy town it deserves to be…it will change. And, did I mention that I had the most delicious food in Guiyang? I did, and it’s those little “crêpes” shown above. I don’t know what they were made of: probably rice, cornflour? You then got to choose your filling by combining fresh and pickled vegetables, fold the crêpe and bite a piece of savoury heaven.
But why did I go to Guiyang in the first place? Well, there’s one thing abut me you don’t know yet : I LOVE WATERFALLS (you can see more waterfall porn on my Pinterest here). I love how the water falls (duh!) and how dangerous yet beautiful they are, how calming, how powerful…and just a few hours train/bus out of Guiyang is Huangguoshu Waterfall, one of the largest in East Asia! The whole Huangguoshu park actually comprises many more minor falls (of which I sadly only got to see a few due to time constraints) with Huangguoshu being the tallest (77.8 metres) and largest (101 metres). And that’s why I simply could not miss it! It is as beautiful and as amazing as it looks, and it was super busy when I got there. And did I mention that there’s a cave behind it and that you can walk behind this amazing wall of water? Yes, it was awesome.
✮ I stayed at: Guiyang Backpackers Hostel - it’s the only hostel in Guiyang (as of Nov 2012), so you don’t have much of a choice. It’s a good place, the staff is super helpful and nice, the rooms are amazingly spacious and the mattresses are basically non-existant (although that’s a common feature of most Chinese hostels I stayed at). The bathrooms are a whole different story (but they’re clean)…
I was really tired when I got to Guilin, so my plan to got to Yangshuo (a little town in the middle of karst formations, extremely beautiful) went out the window. I just could not get myself to board another train/bus/boat so I just spent three days in Guilin. I don’t know why everyone says Guilin is not worth more than a day…I found enough to do in three days and could have wandered around for three more! I was lucky, too, because I met a friendly local girl with whom I went around quite a while after she finished work…late night shopping, restaurants, she even brought me to see Guilin’s artificial waterfall at Lijiang Hotel when I told her how much I loved waterfalls! The whole side of Lijiang Hotel is transformed in a waterfall at 8.30pm every night, with lights, music and waterworks. It was so peculiar! But the best sight of all is portrayed above: a walk by the glistening water at night, stopping to see the Sun and Moon Pagodas’ while having shaved ice desserts.
You really can’t miss a walk by the Li River, as well as going to see the Elephant Trunk Hill (you can pay to get up close, or you can go along the Li River and see it from afar for free). A day or two in Yangshuo should be a must, as it’s much more scenic than Guilin, but the city has enough to offer to keep you quite entertained.
✮ I stayed at: Ming Palace International Youth Hostel - great little hostel, they have cats!! I had been missing my two furry babies so much, it made my day when I got there and saw these two cute little kittens Bathrooms are also really good, and you can choose to have a female-only dorm if you want. Quite close to all amenities, convenient location. I recommend this place 100%.
And then I got to Hong Kong, my final stop before going back to Sydney. To be fair, I had been to Hong Kong before, but I never seem to be able to fully enjoy it because I was super tired both times! This time around though, I did go around a bit more – I went to The Peak, for example, which is where the above photo was taken. I went to Mong Kok markets, I did some shopping (finally!! I had been using the same two outfits for almost 5 weeks!), bought make up, had my hair done…if I was to die on the plane back home, at least I wanted to die pretty!
Hong Kong is a city that always leaves me wanting more but at the same I could never be there for more than 3/4 days at a time, it’s just stressful and not green enough for my inner nature-loving self. I also noticed (and this is in no way meant to offend anyone) that people in Hong Kong seem to be a lot less open/friendly than their Mainland counterparts. I think it’s due mainly to the how quickly things seem to happen in Hong Kong, how busy everyone is/seems to be. And then again, I wasn’t there long enough to get to know anyone too well so this is purely my first impression. I missed the Tian Tan Buddha and Po Lin Monastery on Lantau Island, but I’m planning to have at least another stopover in HK (and possibly Macau) so I’ll make sure to check it out next time!
✮ I stayed at: Yesinn Hostel (Fortress Hill) -what an awesome little hostel! I was in a dorm with amazing beds, an awesome bathroom, great furniture …I couldn’t have asked for more! Highly recommended!
And with a photo of home, the northern suburbs of Sydney, I conclude this not-so-brief account of my backpacking adventure through China! This journey taught me so much about myself, about others, and about the amazing world out there! I hope you will consider China as the destination for your next adventurous holiday, you will not regret it And especially you, prospective solo woman traveller reading this blog – GO! Don’t let your gender or fears stop you from travelling alone, you will be amazed by the things you’re capable of!